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Community Vigilantes in Metropolitan Kano 1985-2005

Rasheed Olaniyi

2. Review of literature

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1Community vigilante has been observed to be growing globally and there have been numerous attempts to explain the phenomenon. Past studies on vigilante in Nigeria have been predominantly concerned with “military policing” and vigilante violence and have dealt to a lesser extent with the emerging trends in community policing. E. E. Alemika (1997) points out that in Lagos, there was an increase in the incidents of crime between 1992 and 1996 and Lagosians as well as visitors to Lagos were increasing apprehensive and anxious as result. In September 1996, the Lagos State government set up a Special Task Force code-named, “Operation Sweep,” to fight crime in Lagos. The policing framework was highly militaristic through the use of maximum violence against suspected armed robbers. The activities of the Task Force further escalated the number of extra-judicial killings and contributed to general fear of insecurity.

2From a political and economic perspective, D. Held and A. McGrew (1998) explain that globalisation is transforming the power, functions and authority of the nation-state. Globalisation is, thus, associated with the emergence of a post- Westphalian world order in which the institutions of sovereign statehood and political communities are being reformed and reconstituted. In this post-Westphalian order there is a marked shift towards heterarchy- a divided authority system - in which states share governance with a complex array of institutions, public and private, local and regional which represent the emergence of overlapping communities.

3C. Thomas and P. Wilkin (1999) argue that over the last two decades, there has been an increasing critique of orthodox security analysis. It has been accused of neglecting the most fundamental needs of “human security” which includes personal autonomy, emancipation from oppressive power structures, security from crime and violence as well as social solidarity.

4According to CLEEN and NHRC (1999), the ad hoc interagency task forces usurped policing duties. The task forces were recruited from the army, the navy, the air-force and the police and were replicated in almost all the states of the federation as follows: Operation Wedge, Ogun State; Operation Zaki, Borno State; Operation Sweep, Oyo State; Operation Storm, Imo State; Operation Flush, Lagos State; Operation Wipe, Edo State; Operation Keep Away Criminals, Kebbi State; Operation Kunama, Adamawa State; Operation Watch, Kwara State; Operation Kwanta Kwanta, Bauchi State; Operation Zaki, Yobe State; Operation Nkpochapa, Anambra State; Operation Wipe, Delta State; Operation Zaman Lafiya, Katsina State; Operation Checkmate, Ekiti; Operation Nasara, Nasarawa State; Operation Purge, Anambra State; and Operation Crime Storm, Ebonyi State. They represented the most abusive units of the Nigerian security forces. Many of those arrested by the task forces were convicted of “armed robbery” before special tribunals; those found guilty were executed by firing squad without the right of appeal.

5They were generously funded and given benefits that were denied to the police. Police officers worked in appalling conditions with poor welfare packages, dilapidated barracks, and a lack of basic working tools such as tables, chairs and stationery. Furthermore, they often risked their lives combating crimes and armed banditry as they lacked the basic organisation to protect themselves. For obvious reasons, the soldiers and policemen could not work together as a team (Roberts, 2003: 151). The traditional rivalry resurfaced and there were violent confrontations between the police and the army. Inter-agency security mechanisms usurped the routine police functions, which complicated urban insecurity (Roberts, 2003: 150). In 1999, some of the states disbanded the task forces and replaced them with units that did not include soldiers. The cruel methods used by the new units, however, followed similar patterns of their predecessors. They carried out more widespread abuses, including summary executions and torture.

6Alemika (1999) argues that the public hostility towards the police can be considered as displaced aggression. The target of public hostility was often the rulers, but since they are protected by the police, the aggression of the citizens usually focused on the police. Police hostility towards the public occurs at two levels: the police, having been alienated and isolated from the public, identify with the rulers in exchange for job security and social significance. The police are often affected by repressive social, economic and political policies.

7Alemika and Chukwuma (2000) explain that police violence thrives because of hostile police-public relations. They observe that police-community violence occurred within the context of political repression, economic exploitation, at an institutional level, police organisation. The police became militarised following the establishment of inter-agency task forces comprising personnel of the armed forces and the police to combat crime. The poor structure of the recruitment process led to unsuitable and corrupt individuals infiltrating the police who encouraged the use of violence in law enforcement. Police officers were frustrated by poor conditions of service and a lack of crime control facilities, which precipitated a violent law enforcement regime. Police-citizen interaction was characterised by prejudice and preconceptions. The citizens, on one hand, tended to resist the police and the police responded by asserting their authority through violence.

8Adeagbo (2000) observes high rates of crimes and insecurity of lives and properties. Appalling social and security facilities compounded this situation. Through communal efforts, especially landlords and the Tenants Association, alternative arrangements were made to provide security.

9Y. Akinyeye (2001) suggests that the inability of the police to cope with security challenges has led to the quest for alternative security outfits in the form of vigilante groups and ethnic militias. Akinyeye argues that the numerical strength of the Police in Nigeria is 150,000 out of which 10,000 are in Lagos alone. With a population of approximately 120 million, there is one police officer to an average of 800 inhabitants. Hence, the police do not have the capacity to combat the unabated wave of crime in Nigerian cities.

10Tamuno (2003) argues that the crises in policing inevitably resulted in the formation of self-help security groups. Examples include vigilante groups, neighbourhood watches, private guards, secret societies and cults. Agbola and Sobanjo (2003) state the same thing. Nevertheless, there are studies that highlight the repressive nature of some of the vigilante groups, especially ethnic militias that often disregard the law, pervert justice and confront the police (Baker, 2002; Ukiwo, 2003; Ehidiamen, 2003; and Onyeonoru, 2003).

11B. Baker (2004) considers vigilantism as a category of non-state or self-policing. It acts independmntly of national police agencies, but will often not cooperate with them and is prepared to break national law in order to carry out its duties of protection and investigation. In this way, the state has found it difficult to control the activities of violent vigilante groups. B. Baker (2004) states that community policing, as a mechanism of governance, is any organised activity that seeks to ensure the maintenance of communal order, security and peace through elements of prevention, deterrence, investigation of breaches, and punishment. Some of the non-state policing networks are lawless and violent in their assault on crime. Although the reliance on non-state policing may be inevitable, it creates serious problems for new democracies. The widespread use of, and support for, non-state policing undermines the legitimacy of the state police, with the danger that a view of the police as irrelevant would extend to seeing the state itself as irrelevant.

12J. Sanda (2004) reiterates the argument of President Obasanjo on the corrupt nature of the police recruitment process and infiltration of the police by armed robbers and criminals. Armed bandits were on the prowl in many parts of Nigeria, sometimes using police uniforms and lethal weapons superior to those of the police. Despite the recruitment of an additional 200,000 police officers and the supply of patrol vehicles and communication gadgets, the police was complicit in much of the criminal activity and therefore inept in combating the armed banditry.

13This study on Kano highlighted the value of community vigilante to urban governance and security. Most of the violence associated with vigilante groups in many parts of Nigeria was not particular to the informal security networks studied in urban Kano.

© IFRA-Nigeria, 2005

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